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As Maryland sets one-day COVID-19 case record, emergency measures loom

Children wait with their father as they wait in a line spanning several blocks in order to be tested for COVID-19, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, at a Curative testing kiosk outside an elementary school in northwest Washington. The Washington family said they were testing the children as a precaution due to cold symptoms. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Gov. Larry Hogan and his top health advisers Tuesday called for a renewed push to limit the spread of COVID-19 as the state experiences a record number of cases.

Hogan, who contracted the virus, spoke during a 23-minute prerecorded briefing, noting the concerning rise in cases including more than 6,200 in the last 24 hours — the most reported in Maryland in a single day. The governor warned of an expected surge in hospitalizations that would surpass previous pandemic high marks.

“As I’ve been warning for the past couple of weeks, we’re entering another pivotal moment in the fight against COVID-19. All of our key health metrics are up across the board,” said Hogan.

“We must remain vigilant and we cannot let our guard down,” he said. “Just as we have withstood these surges before, we will do so again by remaining Maryland strong.”

The governor announced $100 million in additional state aid to go to increasing staffing at health care facilities as well as additional money for hospitals and nursing homes. Another $30 million is earmarked to help school systems around the state purchase additional COVID testing kits and supplies.

Hogan wore a fleece jacket seated in front of a Christmas tree in the Governor’s Mansion, where he is working in quarantine while he recovers. He described his symptoms as cold-like.

“I attribute that to the fact that I am fully vaccinated and I got a booster shot as soon as I was eligible,” said Hogan. “I can’t stress this enough: Getting vaccinated and getting a booster is your strongest possible defense against this virus and its variants.”

Maryland reported 6,218 new coronavirus cases Tuesday. It’s the largest single-day increase since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It is nearly 66% higher than the previous record of 3,758 cases on Jan. 9. 

Hogan said the unvaccinated, about 9% of eligible adults, are responsible for more than three-quarters of the new cases. He and other officials called on those who have not been vaccinated or have not received a booster dose to do so quickly.

“Hospitalizations from COVID are now a largely preventable problem if you get fully vaccinated, which means getting a booster,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID incident commander at the University of Maryland Medical System and an adviser to Hogan.

“These vaccines were designed to save lives, not stop infection or completely block transmission,” he said. “They are doing exactly what they should do.”

Marcozzi called on businesses and churches to immediately reimpose protective measures.

“Another reason for this increase is that we have become too relaxed in our protective measures,” he said.

Hogan and others urged residents to return to pandemic basics  in addition to vaccinations as part of the effort to reduce the spread of the virus in coming weeks.

“The things we did last year made a difference,” said Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems. “We need to do them again. Wash our hands and keep them away from our faces. Despite the nuisance of it all, wear a mask. It’s just too easy and it provides meaningful protection especially when we are around people we don’t know and don’t know if they’ve been vaccinated. Distancing ourselves remains in style.”

The jump in cases also pushed the state’s rolling-seven day average of cases from 2,435.4 on Monday to 3,082.3 Tuesday. This new average is the fifth-highest since the start of the pandemic and puts the state at case levels not seen since mid-January.

It also increased  the state’s new cases per 100,000 people rate to nearly 51, up from 40.28 yesterday. That represents a 26.6% increase in one day.

Maryland’s positivity rate is 11.64%, up from 10.27% in 24 hours. Hogan said it was lower than some other states but “still higher than we want it to be.”

Hogan said the increases are straining hospital capacities across the state. Hospitalizations are nearing 1,400. At 1,500 the state will require hospitals to enact pandemic surge plans.

Marcozzi said the University of Maryland Medical System will exceed its previous highest number of COVID-related hospitalizations.

Marcozzi called the current state of the pandemic “some of the most challenging times I have ever seen in health care.”

“This isn’t just a COVID problem anymore,” he said. “COVID-19 is limiting the ability to care for other illnesses and surgical problems, too.”

Hogan and others said COVID patients — the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated — could reach 2,000 and peak in mid-to-late January.

“That is around the peak of flu season, causing an additional strain on our health care system,” said Hogan.

Hospital staffing levels have declined due to fatigue and frustration, Marcozzi said. Other state officials said fewer numbers of health care workers has resulted in a 5% reduction in hospital capacity already. Hospitals are currently staffed at 92% of capacity.

We are at a new hill in our marathon to win against COVID-19,” said Delbridge. “As with every previous wave or surge, we face specific challenges.”

One in five patients in a Maryland hospital is there because of the virus, Delbridge said. One in three intensive care patients are being treated for coronavirus.

“The necessity to care for patients with COVID-19 means that resources will not be available to care for other less urgent problems,” he said.

More than 300 patients are currently in hospital emergency departments waiting for a room to open up. The effect has caused three-quarters of hospital emergency departments to signal they cannot accept additional patients. Another 50 ambulances are holding at hospitals as they wait for space that will allow them to transfer care of patients to doctors as space becomes available, according to Delbridge.